Ohio’s Republican governor is asking lawmakers to take steps to revise the state’s voter-approved marijuana legalization law before key provisions take effect next month.
Just two days after Ohio voters passed the cannabis initiative, Issue 2, Gov. Mike DeWine (R) says he’s talking to GOP leadership in the legislature about amending the statutory measure prior to adult possession and cultivation becoming legal on December 7.
Specifically, he’s seeking changes to the law that would restrict advertising, mitigate the risk of impaired driving and limit public consumption.
The governor didn’t provide details about what kind of language he hopes to be adopted, but he said he’s scheduled to meet with Senate President Matt Huffman (R) and House Speaker Jason Stephens (R) on Monday to discuss how to address what he describes as “holes” in the law that voters approved.
Both Huffman and Stephens have already discussed their own independent interest in amending the cannabis law, with a focus on THC limits and tax policy. A spokesperson for the Senate GOP majority similarly told The Statehouse News Bureau that the legislature “may consider amending that statute to clarify some questionable language regarding limits for THC,” and added that “tax rates are an issue.”
The governor acknowledged on Thursday that “what the people have clearly told us is they want legal marijuana in Ohio.”
“We are going to see that they have that, but we’ve also got to live up to our responsibility to all the people in the state of Ohio, whether they voted for it or voted against it…that we do this in a very responsible way, we do it in a respectful way,” he said. “And we do it, frankly, the Ohio way.”
The governor said he recently visited an unnamed state where it was “rare” that he wasn’t being exposed to the smell of cannabis, and he wants to ensure Ohioans don’t have the same experience.
“The voters have said people have a right to smoke marijuana—that’s fine,” he said. “But other people have the right not to smell it and not to have their kids and grandkids exposed to it.”
The initiative as passed does contain restrictions on public consumption, and people would still be barred from smoking in places where tobacco smoking is prohibited, but DeWine evidently sees room to expand or clarify the law’s consumption provisions.
There’s limited time on the calendars of both chambers to introduce and pass legislation to address the governor’s and lawmakers’ concerns before personal possession and cultivation become effective. The Senate is only scheduled to meet twice before December 7, and the House has four session days to act.
“There’s a lot of holes in what was passed. I think [it] would be good if that was all done and done by the 7th so that we’re not in a situation of taking something away from people,” DeWine said. “We’re not in a situation of telling them, ‘For X number of days it’s going to be one thing, and then an X number of days after that it’s going to be something else.”
“I think its in the interest of everybody—if you want to grow marijuana, if you want to sell marijuana, if you consume marijuana or if you’re even just a citizen who wants to protect your children, I think it’s important that we get this done quickly,” he said. “And get it done thoughtfully and come up with a package, so at least everybody knows what the ground rules are when we start something new for the state of Ohio.”
Tom Haren, spokesperson for the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (CTRMLA) legalization campaign, told The Columbus Dispatch that he “can’t believe in 2023 we’re actually talking about elected officials not respecting the will of the voters and not respecting the outcome of an election.”
“I expect—I think that every single voter in Ohio has a right to expect—that elected officials will implement and respect the will of voters,” he said.
Rep. Casey Weinstein (D), who has championed cannabis reform in the legislature and sponsored bipartisan legalization legislation, told Marijuana Moment that “Ohioans spoke loud and clear” at the ballot on Tuesday.
“We value privacy. We value freedom. We value liberty,” he said. “The leaders in the legislature should heed the call and uphold the will of the voters.”
The Ohio Department of Commerce was quick to publish an FAQ guide for residents to learn about the new law and timeline for implementation, though regulators repeatedly noted that the policies may be subject to change depending on how the legislature acts.
Prohibitionist organizations that campaigned against Issue 2, meanwhile, are set on a fundamental undermining of the newly approved law, with some describing plans to pressure the legislature to entirely repeal legalization before it’s even implemented.
Amy Ronshausen, executive director of Drug Free America Foundation, wrote an open letter to DeWine and lawmakers following Tuesday’s vote, urging them to “consider additional legislation and programs to mitigate the dangers associated with a recreational marijuana program.”
For what it’s worth, a number of Ohio lawmakers said in September that they doubted the legislature would seek to repeal a voter-passed legalization law.
Voters were only able to decide on the issue after lawmakers declined to take the opportunity to pass their own reform as part of the ballot qualification process. They were given months to enact legalization that they could have molded to address their outstanding concerns, but the legislature ultimately deferred to voters by default.
For his part, the governor has previously said he believes “it would be a real mistake for us to have recreational marijuana,” adding that he visited Colorado following its move to legalize in 2012 and saw what he described as an “unmitigated disaster.”
As early voting kicked off late last month, the GOP-controlled Senate passed a resolution urging residents to reject measure.
Unlike the top state Republican lawmakers, one of the state’s GOP representatives in Congress—Rep. Dave Joyce, co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, said in September that he would be voting in favor of the initiative in November. He encouraged “all Ohio voters to participate and make their voices heard on this important issue.”
Senate Banking Committee Chairman Sherrod Brown (D-OH) said late last month he voted in favor of the legalization ballot initiative, calling it a “hard decision” but one that was based on his belief that the reform would promote “safety” for consumers.
Meanwhile, Vivek Ramaswamy, a 2024 Republican presidential candidate, said he voted against a ballot initiative to legalize marijuana in Ohio because he’s concerned the federal government could “weaponize” criminalization against people who are engaged in state-legal cannabis activities under the “fake” pretense that they’re protected from federal prosecution.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), for his part, said on Wednesday that Ohio’s vote to legalize marijuana at the ballot is one of the latest examples of how Americans are rejecting “MAGA extremism,” and he added that he’s committed to continuing to work on a bipartisan basis “to keep moving on bipartisan cannabis legislation as soon as we can.”
The White House separately said that “nothing has changed” with President Joe Biden’s stance on marijuana, declining to say if he supports Ohio’s vote to legalize this week or whether he backs further reform of federal cannabis laws.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.
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